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LA Theater Review

'Johnson Over Jordan'

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Unknown Theater won't stay that way for long if it continues offering theatre of the high caliber evidenced by its mighty impressive inaugural production. The company's introduction on to the L.A. scene is with British playwright J.B. Priestley's 1939 mind-boggling journey through the mystifying window of time between death and the final passage from the "Inn at the End of the World" to wherever it is that we go from there.

Robert Johnson (Christopher Cappiello)-a recently deceased 51-year-old businessman, husband, and father of two grown children-is made to look at his past and present as they collide into a surreal, Kafkaesque exploration of the joys and failures of his life. Time and space get jumbled as he battles the bureaucratic madness of paper-pushing, corporate interrogation, and moneymaking in Act One. Act Two delves into his more colorful and bawdy remembrances, as well as his erratic revelations and sensitive realizations of familial love and other delicately savored memories.

Director Chris Covics has an inspired way of making Priestley's surreal exploration of the unknown not only palatable but also as intelligible as the genre allows. Here, Covics has the asset of a splendid, large ensemble-20 in all-in which Cappiello's energetic quizzical portrayal of Robert sets the standard. The visually intoxicating design for this sprawling production is credited to Covics, who makes marvelous use of the huge stage area provided by the new venue. There are tall swiveling wall units, rear screen projections, miles of red flowing fabric, and set pieces dropped in from above. There are also endless nifty costumes (Zale Morris), original music (David Permenter), and fine lighting and sound designs (Covics). Brett Webster and Maia Guest serve as assistant directors.

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